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Violating the European Union’s arms embargo

The battlefields of South Sudan have been fuelled by large consignments of weapons coming from Europe, violating an EU-sanctioned arms embargo, a detailed report by an arms monitoring group said on Thursday.

The four-year investigation that has been conducted by the London-based organisation Conflict Armament Research (CAR), revealed that European military supplies from at least three EU members Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia via neighbouring Uganda were channelled to the South Sudanese army in 2014 and 2015.

The EU has banned the direct sale of weapons by member states to Sudan since 1994. It also included South Sudan in the embargo when the country gained its independence in 2011 after a decade-long war with Sudan.

Bloody civil war

Two years after independence, the world’s youngest nation plunged into civil war in 2013, when South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, a member of the Dinka tribe, accused his then deputy Riek Machar, a Nuer, of plotting a coup.

The conflict split the country along ethnic lines, triggering violence, including mass rapes, forced recruitment of child soldiers and rampant attacks on civilians. It has caused one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, wrecking the country’s economy, which otherwise relied on oil production for the vast bulk of its revenues.

As a result, the conflict killed nearly 400,000 people, uprooted a third of the country’s 13 million population, forced nearly 2.5 million people into exile and triggered a widespread famine.

President Kiir signed the “final final” deal last September in neighbouring Ethiopia, with Riek Machar and the other rebel factions. A previous peace deal signed in 2015 fell apart a year later after clashes broke out between government forces and rebels.

Uganda’s role in the illicit arms trade

The weaponry, delivered to Uganda in 2014 and 2015, was then transferred to South Sudan, CAR said in a report based on four years of research.

“We have a paper trail from point of manufacture, through export to Uganda, through diversion to South Sudan, and to the recovery of the weapons on the battlefield,” said James Bevan, head of CAR.

With the Bulgarian weapons, “South Sudan arranged for Uganda to issue end-user certificates (the essential paperwork for an international arms transfer) … to make it look like these weapons were for the use of the Ugandan armed forces when in fact they were always destined for South Sudan,” said Mike Lewis, the head of regional operations for CAR.

The Ugandan government openly provided arms and troops in support of the South Sudanese military since the civil war began in 2013. It also is a key sponsor of the latest peace agreement.

The US military jet in illegal hands

The report also describes how a network of “jointly owned Ugandan and US companies — controlled by British, Israeli, Ugandan and US nationals — procured a military jet from the United States and an Austrian-made surveillance aircraft, which one of these companies delivered into service with [South Sudan’s military] in 2015 and 2016, respectively.”

Investigators discovered that the company, Yamasec, transferred both aircraft to South Sudan’s military. The US military jet, after being used by Uganda’s air force, was deployed in South Sudan in 2016, overflying armed opposition targets along with attack helicopters.

The Uganda-based Yamasec Ltd used the plane to train members of Uganda’s air force, the report says. While the transfer to Uganda was not illegal, “re-export to South Sudan may have violated non-retransfer conditions under US arms export controls.”

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